October 29, 2020

Square Feet: A Corporate Campus Made to Mirror Facebook

Construction workers are already swarming over the campus, a series of stucco-covered low-rise buildings occupied by Sun Microsystems until Sun was bought by the Oracle Corporation last year. Facebook plans to move in some employees by July and have most of its 2,000 workers, including its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, on site within 10 months. The campus will resemble an urban streetscape, with cafeterias by Roman and Williams, the New York design firm behind the Ace Hotel and its Breslin and John Dory restaurants.

But if the campus will be a microcosm of a city, it’s not clear that the real city around the campus — including the largely Mexican-American neighborhood of Belle Haven — will benefit from Facebook’s presence.

For one thing, the Facebook site is surrounded on three sides by water, and separated from the rest of Menlo Park by railroad tracks and a divided highway. 

The site is so insular that in the two decades it was occupied by Sun Microsystems it was nicknamed Sun Quentin (a reference to San Quentin prison, about 40 miles north). And because Facebook provides its employees with three meals a day in its own cafeterias, there may be little reason for them to venture off the property.

At Mi Tierra Linda, a Mexican food store on Willow Road (which dead-ends at the Facebook site), workers said they were not aware that Facebook was heading their way. But one customer, Freddy Bueno, 24, said he knew the company was coming and hoped it would be good for local businesses.

“Facebook has a huge global presence,” said the city manager of Menlo Park, Glen Rojas, who said he was optimistic that the company would attract other businesses to the city, which has a population of about 30,000. At the same time, he said, there is concern about how large a presence Facebook will become. Sun had 3,600 employees on site; Facebook, with a work force that is growing by 50 percent a year, could exceed that number, said John Tenanes, Facebook’s director of global real estate.

In fact, because Sun’s engineers had private offices, while most Facebook employees work in unpartitioned spaces, Mr. Tenanes said the one million-square-foot campus could handle a much larger population than it was originally designed for.

But Mr. Rojas said the site could legally accommodate only 3,600 workers, as determined by an environmental impact report. To exceed that number, Facebook will have to negotiate with Menlo Park, which will be looking for civic benefits in exchange, he said. Those could include street improvements, bicycle paths and payments in lieu of taxes.

“They can start moving in tomorrow,” he said of Facebook. “But they can’t have more than 3,600 employees until they get City Council approval.”

As for what civic improvements Facebook may make, Menlo Park is not relying on the company for ideas. Soon after Facebook announced plans to move to the Sun site (which it is leasing with an option to buy from Rreef, a unit of Deutsche Bank that bought it from Oracle last year), the city asked the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects to conduct a charrette, a kind of brainstorming session for architects. Such events usually attract 40 or 50 people; this one drew nearly 200, said John Stewart, a local architect who helped organize it.

The event was held in the campus cafeteria, the same one Roman and Williams will be reconfiguring.  It began with local residents listing some of the ways Belle Haven could be improved; they mentioned walking and biking paths and greater access to public transportation and the wetlands alongside the Facebook site.

Then the architects got to work. One team, charged with connecting the Facebook site to the rest of Menlo Park, devised an elevated ringlike walkway that links the campus to the Belle Haven neighborhood, a proposed transit station and the San Francisco Bay waterfront. The architects named it Friends Circle. (Though Belle Haven is a tidy neighborhood, many of the homes are small and flimsy-looking.)

Mr. Zuckerberg stopped by to lend his support. The proposals will be presented to the City Council at a meeting on May 3, with Mr. Tenanes and other Facebook executives on hand.

But right now the focus is on getting the campus ready for Facebook employees. Contractors have already replaced rows of small offices in one of the Sun buildings with a loftlike space where desks will be pushed together in groups of four. “We like that you can sit at one end and see all the way to the other,” said Mr. Tenanes, showing off a section of building that had been stripped to concrete and ductwork — and will remain that way.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=f06ca2c613b165eb6a0977ffbddf0f16

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